Review: “Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue” Shares The Power of Possibility

Everytime we receive a biopic or film “based on a true story,” we are expected to see a series of title cards at the end of the runtime. Usually white text appears against a black background, sometimes flanked with historical photos, listing things that occurred to the people involved with the story. Has there ever been a time when those title cards were so interesting, you wanted another hour to watch how those came to be? Enter National Geographic’s newest special.

Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue shares the historic work the people of Niue (a small Polynesian island) are doing to ensure their waters are protected. In 2016, National Geographic’s Pristine Seas helped Niue form Moana Mahu, one of the world’s largest protected areas. This special follows the Pristine Seas’ return six years later to document how/if the creation of Moana Mahu has changed the waters surrounding the island and how their sustainability work can continue.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to review a lot of hour-long documentaries from National Geographic that have all shared similar problems: they are improperly narrated and they don’t have enough meat to warrant their runtime. I’m thrilled to share that Protecting Paradise has neither of those problems. Instead of an offscreen narrator, the people of Niue and the Pristine Seas team help to put everything in perspective. The beautiful culture of Niue is on full display, explaining their commitment to sustainability.

Even more so, the special radiates an urgency as a piece of climate change activism. Climate change remains a dire, yet under discussed issue. From the jump, the people of Niue are able to frame the creation of Moana Mahu around their own culture, the greater Polynesian community, and as a part of our spaceship earth. With every mention of the wonders of the sea, you can tell that this is not a way to become en vogue with the greenification of the world. It’s not a cash grab, it’s life or death.

Emotions run high throughout the hour runtime, but not in a cloying way. Excitement, worry, trepidation, and wonderment fill the voices of everyone who helps tell the tales of the island and Moana Mahu. As a marine protected area, anything that could possibly hurt the protected waters is a big fear for all involved. At one point, the team looks into a recent shipwreck with baited breath, hoping the waters have been spared from the worst. It’s an interesting look at how one change in the landscape of the ocean can have lasting impacts.

Creating a marine protected area is, one can imagine, a big undertaking with a massive infrastructure behind it to ensure the stability of the area. Yet, something is even more majestic about heading back to Moana Mahu as a proof of concept. Of course, this is partly a nature documentary, so the underwater imagery remains gorgeous. While you may want to watch for cool scenes of sharks and coral, stay for the people fighting for a better tomorrow.

Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue premieres June 7th at 10pm ET on National Geographic. It streams the next day on Disney+ and Hulu.

Marshal Knight
Marshal Knight is a pop culture writer based in Orlando, FL. For some inexplicable reason, his most recent birthday party was themed to daytime television. He’d like to thank Sandra Oh.